Art of Asia
- What is South Asia?
- Challenges, opportunities, and approaches for studying South Asian art
- Geographic regions of South Asia
- Understanding divine “blueness” in South Asia
- Representations of Krishna
- South Asian religions, an introduction
- Introduction to Islam
- Beliefs made visible: Buddhist art in South Asia
- Development of the Buddha image
- Bodhisattva Maitreya
- Mudras in Buddhist art
- Mahakala, Protector of the Tent
- Conservation: Indian Jama
Met curator Kurt Behrendt on darkness in Mahakala, Protector of the Tent by the Sakya Order of Central Tibet, c. 1500.
Mahakala, the fierce emanation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, is one of the most popular guardians in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon. He is especially revered by the Sakya Order, and the presence of Mahasiddhas and Sakyapa teachers framing the deity makes clear that this protector was commissioned for a Sakya monastery.
Mahakala tramples a corpse and holds a flaying knife and blood-filled skull cup, signifying the defeat of all impediments to enlightenment. He wears a profusion of gold and bone ornaments, and coiled around his belly is his Brahmin cord of a live green snake. Beneath it hangs a garland of severed heads. In the crooks of his elbows he supports a gandi gong, used to summon monks to assemblies and a symbol of his vow to protect the Buddhist university of Nalanda. His principal companions, Palden Remati and Palden Lhamo, appear to his left, and Legden Nagpo and Bhutadamara appear to his right. To the lower left is Brahmarupa, blowing a thighbone trumpet.
This tangka is one of the earliest and grandest of this subject, and marks the beginning of a transfer from what was largely a mural tradition to large-scale cloth paintings. Although commissioned for a Tibetan monastery, the work is strongly Nepali in style and composition, and can be related to paintings in the fifteenth-century Kumbum at Gyantse monastery, believed to have been painted under Newari direction.
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Want to join the conversation?
- why did the mahakala eat the people when they did nothing wrong?(2 votes)
- Though it might say that a disrespectful student will be eaten, there is a symbolic meaning to it. If you look into the esoteric Vajrayana texts, there is symbolism. One does not take the literal meaning of the texts, but the inner meaning. By the "disrespectful student" or "enemy," it is referring to the self-clinging which one is still attached to that makes many obstacles for the practitioner. In order to cure this, the dharmapala(in this case, Mahakala Panjaranatha) must use destructive means to destroy this self-clinging. This is not by killing the person, but the self which makes the person cause all these obstacles. Of course, it is not always destruction in order to transform the person. There are 4 means that one must take: pacification(purification practices, healing, etc.), increasing(wealth, wisdom, etc.), magnetizing(influence, social means, etc., and finally, destruction(as shown here to remove obstacles and eliminate it).
These days, people mistake destruction in a negative view. In reality, the lamas that take up the destructive path must have WRATHFUL COMPASSION in order to do such wrathful practices. The dharmapala is like a mother protecting her child, to save the practitioners from any dangers and to transform the path so that it is easier to practice dharma. But remember, do not confuse the dharmapalas with wrathful yidams(meditational deities). Usually, lamas take up the practice of wrathful yidams as their main practice instead of dharmapalas. Dharmapalas aren't the main focus, they are just their by their vows to help practitioners in being able to practice dharma, not as a path to Nirvana. Now, there are special cases where the yidam, Yamantaka, can count as both a dharmapala and a yidam, but not so much with other protectors like Palden Lhamo, Mahakala, Tashi Tseringma, Dorje Yudronma, Nyanchen Thanglha, and so on. Then there are the enlightened masters who take the form of wrathful deities, but are not necessarily "dharmapalas." In this matter, Padmasambhava can become the wrathful Dorje Dragpo Tsal, but he is not a dharmapala.(2 votes)